How to Watch the Solar Eclipse – Eye Safety Tips

How to watch the solar eclipse: eye safety tips

An eclipse is a rare and exciting natural event, but watching one can pose risks for your eyes. The eye doctors at Florida Eye Specialists want you to know how to watch a solar eclipse safely. Tip number 1 from Dr. Kimberly Riordan: Wearing your regular sunglasses isn’t enough! You’ll need to invest in specialty eclipse glasses for safe viewing.

Watch as Dr. Ravi Patel explains tips to local news station Action News Jax in the clip below, or keep reading to learn how you can protect your vision while viewing an eclipse.

What is a Solar Eclipse?

According to the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), a solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. When this occurs, the moon casts a shadow and blocks the sun’s light either fully or partially.

About the April 8, 2024 Solar Eclipse

Residents of Northeast Florida, including Jacksonville and the Jacksonville beaches area, should start to see the eclipse beginning about 1:45 p.m. EDT on April 8, 2024. The midpoint will be at 3:05 p.m. and will last for three or four minutes before the sun begins to appear again. Use this tool to look up the eclipse start time in your city. 

We won’t be able to view a total eclipse here in North Florida, but the partial eclipse will show about 70% of the sun blocked by the moon. Look at this map to see where you can view the total eclipse. 

Can You Look at a Solar Eclipse?

Yes, you can look at a solar eclipse as long as you are wearing certified solar glasses or solar viewers. Dr. Riordan says to look for those that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard

However, it is not safe to look directly at the sun without these special-purpose solar filters, even if you view the eclipse through sunglasses, a camera lens, binoculars, or a telescope, according to NASA. Doing so can cause severe eye injury and even permanent damage to your eyes. 

Avoid Fake Solar Eclipse Glasses

Unfortunately, there are many counterfeit or fake eclipse glasses “polluting the marketplace,” according to the American Astronomical Society (AAS). To be safe, only purchase viewers from this list of approved AAS suppliers. Do not purchase your viewers from other sources on the internet.

According to Florida Eye Specialist opthalmologist Dr. Kathryn Freidl, “If you can see anything – such as lamplight or regular objects – through your solar eclipse glasses, they’re likely not meeting international standards.”

Dr. Freidl explained that proper eclipse glasses should block out almost everything except for the sun’s light. “When looking through the glasses at the sun, it should feel as comfortable as looking at the full moon,” she added. “If it’s uncomfortable, stop immediately. Even if the sun is partially blocked as during an eclipse, it can still cause damage to your retina.” 

According to the AAS, take these steps to test your eclipse glasses:

  • Wear them indoors and look around. If you can see anything, such as household furnishings or pictures on the wall, your glasses aren’t dark enough for solar viewing.

  • Take them outside on a sunny day, put them on, and look around again. You still shouldn’t see anything through them but very bright sunlight reflections, which should appear very faint.

  • If your glasses pass that test, glance at the sun through them for less than a second. You should see a sharp-edged, round disk that’s comfortably bright (like a full moon).

If your glasses don’t pass all three tests, they are not safe to use. If you didn’t purchase your viewers from this list of approved AAS suppliers, do not look at the sun directly.

How to Watch the Solar Eclipse

Follow these steps for safe viewing of the solar eclipse.

Do Not Rely on Sunglasses

Regular sunglasses, even very dark ones or those with polarized lenses, are not enough to protect your eyes from a solar eclipse. Looking at the sun for even a short time can damage your retina permanently and even cause blindness.

Purchase Approved Solar Eclipse Glasses or Viewers

The only way to safely view an eclipse is through certified eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard. Click here to view a list of approved manufacturers from the AAS

Inspect Your Solar Filter Before Use

Be careful to inspect your eclipse glasses or solar viewers before you wear them. If they are scratched, punctured, torn, or damaged, discard them. Follow any other instructions that come with your filter as well. 

Stand Still and View With Your Certified Eclipse Glasses

Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on and put your eclipse glasses over them or hold your solar view in front of them. Remember, always supervise children using solar filters.

After Viewing, Turn Away Before Removing Eclipse Glasses

After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your eclipse glasses or solar viewer. Do not remove them while looking at the sun.

Never Look Through an Unfiltered Camera, Telescope or Binoculars

Even if you are wearing certified eclipse glasses or holding a solar viewer at the same time, never look at the sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, or binoculars. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), “the intense solar rays coming through these devices will damage the protective filter in your solar glasses and put your eyes at risk.”

Use the Pinhole Method

If you don’t have certified eye protection, you can make a pinhole camera to view the eclipse indirectly. See step-by-step instructions from NASA here. Remember, you will keep your back to the sun and watch the shadow cast by the sun on the ground. Do not look directly at the sun through your pinhole.

Watch the Livestream From NASA

Click here to join a live stream of the event from NASA. This is a great way to view the eclipse wherever you are.

Improper Viewing Can Cause Irreversible Vision Damage

Dr. Freidl explained that damage from looking at the sun can happen very quickly. “Looking directly at the sun for any length of time can cause damage,” she said. “That’s not just during an eclipse, that’s any time you look at the sun. Even just looking ‘real quick’ can be damaging due to the strength of the solar radiation.”

This damage can cause a blind spot, known as solar retinopathy. “Unfortunately, if you do look at the sun, you can damage the most important part of your retina,” Dr. Freidl said. “The patients I have seen with solar damage typically develop a black or gray spot in the middle of their vision, which makes it difficult to make out fine details, read or see faces.”

Symptoms of solar retinopathy can include:

  • Eye discomfort

  • A black or gray spot in your vision that doesn’t go away and is fixed in one location (according to Dr. Freidl, this spot won’t move around)

  • Distorted vision or altered color vision

Treatment for solar retinopathy

According to Dr. Freidl, there is currently no treatment for the blind spot and damage caused by solar retinopathy. However, you still need to get checked out by an eye doctor as soon as possible to ensure you don’t develop further problems down the road.

“Solar damage can make you more susceptible to developing conditions like wet macular degeneration,” Dr. Freidl explained. “The damaged area allows blood vessels to grow where they shouldn’t. The blood vessels can leak and bleed.” 

Keep in mind that it can take hours or even days before you notice eye damage from improper viewing of the sun. Any symptoms need to be checked out, so don’t wait to see your eye doctor.  

Visit an Eye Doctor if You Experience Any Discomfort or Vision Changes

Never take any chances with your sight. If you experience any discomfort or vision changes within the hours or days after you view an eclipse, don’t brush your symptoms off. Take quick action and schedule an appointment with a board-certified optometrist or ophthalmologist.

For premier eye care in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, Ormond Beach, Palm Coast, and beyond, schedule your appointment with Florida Eye Specialists today.